Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets in various protests in order to support hundreds of Palestinian prisoners who have been on a hunger strike in Israel since April 17.
In addition to a massive rally in Ramallah where speakers called for a new campaign of civil disobedience against Israeli rule, Mahmoud Abbas’ political party, Fatah, called for a “Day of Rage” on Friday, April 28 in which dozens were injured in clashes with Israeli police.
The prisoners began their hunger strike to demand improved conditions in their Israeli prisons. The Israel Prison Service said that as of last week around 850 Palestinian prisoners are still striking, down from about 1,300 the week before.
The strike is being led by Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life terms for his role in deadly attacks on Israel. Barghouti wrote a highly controversial opinion piece in the New York Times entitled Why we are on Hunger Strike, in which he attacks Israel. The newspaper was heavily for criticized publishing the piece without any reference to the reasons for which Barghouti was imprisoned in the first place.
Barghouti’s wife spoke at the rally and called for Palestinians to embark upon “the largest campaign of civil disobedience” against 50 years of Israeli rule.
“The freedom of the prisoners paves the way for the freedom of the entire nation,” Fadwa Barghouti. “Therefore, the people and the leadership should support the strike.”
Responding to Barghouti through his own piece in the New York Times, Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said the conditions in Israel’s prisons meet international standards. He stated that the prison service had received demands for: “the option to obtain university degrees, more family visits, access to more television channels, public telephones and private doctors.”
At the same time, the strikers are also protesting against the practice of administrative detention whereby prisoners are held without charge or trial, and against the blocking of access to lawyers.
In regards to the issue of access to legal advice, on Wednesday last week Israel reinstated permission for security prisoners to speak to their lawyers, on the condition that legal consultations be limited to legal matters rather than political ones. The move followed a petition filed in the High Court by Adalah, The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel.
On the day of rage itself, Palestinian protesters in the West Bank assembled at “solidarity tents” and then headed to the checkpoints. According to the Al Jazeera news outlet, some 50 protestors were subsequently injured – mostly through inhalation of tear gas. Al Jazeera also reported being told that some protesters were shot at with live or rubber bullets.
Paul Calvert of Radio Hayah based in Bethlehem described to KNI the situation in that city.
“Rachel’s tomb [near the entrance to Bethlehem] is controlled by the Israeli soldiers and Bethlehem is a Palestinian town. It is often the place of conflict,” Calvert wrote. “Today’s conflict started with a makeshift mosque in the road near the Azza Refugee camp. There was also a demonstration tent set up in support of the Palestinian prisoners.
“After prayers and a message there was a march up to the gate of the city. Once there, a sound bomb was let off by the Israeli soldiers and people dispersed. Rocks had been thrown by the youths and tear gas was fired by the soldiers.”